Vahni Capildeo

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Vahni Capildeo
Capildeo reads for the Jhalak Prize Award 2022
Surya Vahni Priya Capildeo[1]

1973 (age 50–51)
NationalityTrinidadian and Tobagonian
Other namesVahni (Anthony Ezekiel) Capildeo
Notable workMeasures of Expatriation (2016 Forward Prize for Poetry)

Vahni Anthony Ezekiel Capildeo[2] (born Surya Vahni Priya Capildeo, 1973) is a Trinidad and Tobago-born British writer, and a member of the extended Capildeo family that has produced notable Trinidadian politicians and writers (including V. S. Naipaul, a cousin of Capildeo's, and Neil Bissoondath).[3][4][5][6]


Born in 1973 in Port of Spain, Trinidad, Capildeo has lived in Scotland since 2017, and the United Kingdom since 1991.[6] Capildeo is agender.[7]

They read English at Christ Church, Oxford, and were subsequently awarded a Rhodes Scholarship[8] to pursue graduate work in Old Norse and translation theory, also at Christ Church/the Faculty of English Language and Literature, towards their DPhil, Reading Egils saga Skallagrímssonar: saga, paratext, translations (2001).[9]

They intermitted from a Research Fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge, in 2000–04 to spend time in Trinidad and Jamaica. This produced No Traveller Returns (Salt, 2003),[10] a book-length poem sequence characterised by a reviewer as "a discontinuous meditation on identity and self-awareness. These are merciless poems – mercilessly observant, mercilessly precise",[5] and One Scattered Skeleton, a non-fiction book on the palimpsestic nature of place, memory, and language that takes its title from a poem by the Guyanese poet Martin Carter and moves between the UK, the Caribbean, and Iceland. Extracts from One Scattered Skeleton have appeared in London: City of Disappearances (ed. Iain Sinclair), Stand Magazine, The Arts Journal (Guyana) and The Caribbean Review of Books.[11]

Person Animal Figure, a set of 45 dramatic monologues in three voices, was published by Jeremy Noel-Tod's Landfill Press in 2005 (

Undraining Sea (completed 2005), a third poetry collection, was published in 2009.[12] Described in one review as "a wholly recommendable collection",[13] it is a three-section book that actively engages with William Carlos Williams's Paterson. This was followed in 2012 by Dark and Unaccustomed Words (completed 2008), which takes its title from George Puttenham's 16th-century Arte of Poesie. This was Puttenham's critical term for arcane or foreign imports into English. The collection was longlisted for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.[14] These poems demonstrate, for example, the feeling and scope of certain parts of speech (prepositions, adjectives), forms, voices, or attitudes. Rights for both books (originally published by Eggbox) have reverted to the author.

A fifth book, Utter, was published by Peepal Tree Press in 2013.[15][16] Reviewing the collection in The Caribbean Review of Books, Vivek Narayanan wrote: "What we have here is not a set of conceits, or even concerns, but a system and a mythos entire, one that is delivered to us with such continuous and consistent lyrical intensity, both classical and contemporary, that it can appear as fissures of lightning on the page."[17] David Caddy in the magazine Tears in the Fence said: "Reading Vahni Capildeo’s Utter ... is an absolute joy, displaying the range and registers that the best of contemporary poetry should exhibit more fully. Capildeo is both Trinidadian and universal."[18]

Simple Complex Shapes, published by Tony Frazer's Shearsman Books in 2015, was written during Capildeo's time as the Judith E. Wilson Poetry Fellow in the Faculty of English, University of Cambridge. Jamie Osborn notes that this work " can be taken as a sequence of poems or one long poem describing a series of flights and falls from the moment of a touch in the dark through a day or days, a tangle of time, back into a dreaming sleep."[19]

Capildeo has worked at Oxfam Head Office and for the Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre as a volunteer and a volunteer trainer;[20] for the Oxford English Dictionary; and they have taught at the Universities of Leeds (2009), Greenwich (2009), Sheffield (2009–10), Kingston upon Thames (2010–11), and Glasgow (2012–13).[21] They are a Contributing Editor at the Caribbean Review of Books (edited by Nicholas Laughlin). They were part of the team of Commonwealth Writers, the cultural initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation, in 2013–14.[20] They held the 2014 Judith E. Wilson Visiting Fellowship in Poetry at the University of Cambridge and the 2015 Harper-Wood Studentship at St John's College, Cambridge. Capildeo was a Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow in Poetry at the University of Leeds, 2017–19, the 2019–2020 Seamus Heaney Centre Fellow in Poetry at Queen's University Belfast, and 2020 Writer in Residence at the University of the West Indies (St Augustine Campus). They were 2022 Charles Causley Writer in Residence in Launceston, Cornwall. Capildeo is now Professor and Writer in Residence at the University of York.

In 2014, Capildeo served as a judge for the Forward Prize and won the Forward Prize for Poetry for Best Collection in 2016.[22][23]


In 2016, Capildeo became the third Caribbean poet in a row – after Jamaican-born poets Kei Miller and Claudia Rankine – to win the Forward Prize for best poetry collection, with Measures of Expatriation.[24][25][26][27] The Chair of the Forward jury, Malika Booker, said: "Vahni Capildeo’s Measure of Expatriation is a work that amazes. We found a vertiginous excitement in the way in which the book grasps its subject: the sense of never quite being at home. This is poetry that transforms. When people in the future seek to know what it's like to live between places, traditions, habits and cultures, they will read this. Here is the language for what expatriation feels like."[28]

In 2018, Capildeo received the Cholmondeley Award for poetry, from the Society of Authors.

In 2019, Capildeo was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.[29]


  • No Traveller Returns. Salt Publishing, 2003. ISBN 978-1876857882
  • Person Animal Figure. Landfill Press, 2005.
  • Undraining Sea. Egg Box Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-0955939907 [rights reverted to author]
  • All Your Houses. Alice Yard, 2011.
  • Dark and Unaccustomed Words, Egg Box Publishing, 2012. ISBN 978-0956928917 [rights reverted to author]
  • Utter. Peepal Tree Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1845232139
  • Simple Complex Shapes. Shearsman Books, 2015. ISBN 9781848614512
  • Measures of Expatriation, Carcanet Press, January 2016. ISBN 978-1784101688
  • Seas and Trees, Recent Work Press, 2017.
  • Venus as a Bear, Carcanet Press, 2018.
  • Skin Can Hold, Carcanet Press, 2019.
  • Odyssey Calling, Sad Press, 2020.
  • Light Site, Periplum, 2020.
  • The Dusty Angel, Oystercatcher, 2021.
  • Like a Tree, Walking, Carcanet, 2021.
  • A Happiness, Intergraphia, 2022.


  1. ^ Haith, Chelsea (2017). "Vahni Capildeo". Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds. Retrieved 6 May 2022.
  2. ^ Editorial (4 May 2022). "The Guardian view on Trinidad writers: women take the lead". The Guardian.
  3. ^ Morgan, Ann (19 September 2012). "Trinidad and Tobago: relative values". A Year of Reading the World.
  4. ^ Bagoo, Andre (13 October 2008). "Dark and unaccustomed words". Trinidad and Tobago Newsday.
  5. ^ a b Laughlin, Nicholas (March–April 2004). "Undiscovered countries". Caribbean Beat. No. 66.
  6. ^ a b Andrews, Erline (30 November 2014). "Living with the Naipaul legacy Capildeo's poetry is 'original, provoking and strange'". Trinidad and Tobago Guardian.
  7. ^ Roffey, Monique (3 May 2022). "'The pendulum has swung': Why we female Trinidadian writers are having our moment". The Guardian.
  8. ^ "Register of Caribbean Rhodes Scholars". The Rhodes Trust.
  9. ^ "Reading Egils saga Skallagrímssonar: saga, paratext, translations". University of Oxford.
  10. ^ "No Traveller Returns, Vahni Capildeo". Salt Publishing.
  11. ^ "Issues of belonging in Capildeo's 'Houses'". Trinidad and Tobago Newsday. 7 January 2011.
  12. ^ "Vahni Capildeo..." at Eggbox.
  13. ^ Bailey, Andrew (19 May 2011). "Guest Review: Bailey on Capildeo". Eyewear Publishing.
  14. ^ "Three TT writers vie for literary award". Trinidad and Tobago Newsday. 28 February 2013.
  15. ^ "Vahni Capildeo, Utter". Peepal Tree Press.
  16. ^ "Trinidad and Tobago: Vahni Capildeo – Utter". Poetry Postcards. BBC Radio. 10 July 2014.
  17. ^ Narayanan, Vivek (November 2015). "Turtles all the way down". The Caribbean Review of Books.
  18. ^ Caddy, David (19 December 2013). "Vahni Capildeo's Utter". Tears in the Fence.
  19. ^ Osborn, Jamie (8 December 2015). "Simple Complex Shapes"= (review)". The Missing Slate.
  20. ^ a b Vahni Capildeo page, Peepal Tree Press.
  21. ^ Blackbox Manifold, 5 (2010); "Vahni Capildeo",; School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow; "Profile: Vahni Capildeo", Poetry and Pictures at the Museum; "Creative Writing Low Residency MA: Who teaches this course", Kingston University London; "Vahni Capildeo – 'Conversations for a Lifetime in Twenty Minutes and Under'", Infinite Editions, 25 May 2011.
  22. ^ "'A pencil, coffee beans, no alcohol and much muttering'. Vahni Capildeo on judging the Forward Prize 2014". The Carcanet Blog. 10 October 2014.
  23. ^ "Vahni Capildeo". Forward Arts Foundation.
  24. ^ Cain, Sian (20 September 2016). "Trinidadian poet Vahni Capildeo wins 2016 Forward prize for poetry". The Guardian.
  25. ^ "Forward Prize: Capildeo leads poetry awards winners". BBC News. 21 September 2016.
  26. ^ Saunders, Tristram Fane (21 September 2016). "Vahni Capildeo wins £15,000 Forward Prize for poetry". The Telegraph.
  27. ^ Sieghart, William (22 September 2016). "Why Vahni Capildeo deserved to win the Forward prize". The Guardian.
  28. ^ Cowdrey, Katherine (20 September 2016). "Trinidad's Capildeo wins Forward Prize for poetry". The Bookseller.
  29. ^ "Vahni (Anthony Ezekiel) Capildeo". Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 6 May 2022.

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